Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Yet another Grad School Rant.

This originally began as a response to someone else's blog (the person in question has been accepted into graduate school and has finalized a decision), but it quickly mutated into one of my long rants. Specifically, I replied to the blue font below. Be warned; again I'm speaking loosely and my opinions are splattered over a wide canvas. (;

This is the beginning of the rest of my life and it scares me to focus so hard on one thing, and it scares me to be able to make statements like "well, I won't be done until I'm over 30" and have it be utterly reasonable and accurate.

I'm contentedly convinced that I don't know much of anything anyway and that this will be a recurring theme as I pass through my twenties. It wouldn't matter if I were a student or not; I still won't be certain of very much, so I might as well be uncertain while studying subjects that few others will ever have a chance to study.

That's a fact about graduate school which warrants some inquiry. Most people are able to be students only for a short time in their lives, and this is fine for those people who are happier pursuing other things. There's nothing wrong with that; it is simply a matter of preference.

But if you're the person who is curious about certain questions, and if you have a driving need to understand the heart of matters in a formalized and systematic matter (as in academia), then graduate school is one opportunity to practice this in your area of interest. This not a freely given opportunity, for that matter; it has to be sought out. There are applications and fees, plenty of hoops to jump, and only a few available positions. Those who gain the chance to study do so with a bit of luck.

Concerning time, if you are such a person then for all intents and purposes you will never be done, because there will always be more questions to raise and issues to ponder. In that light, being a student is simply a matter of coping with that fact.

I like to view it optimistically, just as how it feels to walk into a Barnes & Noble or a Borders bookstore: seeing the sheer volume of books and printed matter and media, and knowing that more comes every year, month, and day, you will never reach the end of what you would like to have read in a lifetime. But that's immensely relieving, because if you could reach the end, then there would be nothing else to learn.

That possibility scares me more than anything else: attaining an intellectual limit. I wouldn't be "me" anymore .. no more curiosity, no more long moments of contemplation, no more bouts of frustration from trying to understand something. I'd even miss those. \: [1]

I'm both lucky and happy to be a student, so I'll deal with the repercussions. Some days I'm convinced that I've been dealing with them for most of my adult life.

To make a long story short [2], I don't believe that the end of graduate school marks a time that I will be "done." It's not the pinnacle or paragon of learning, and from observing post-docs and faculty, it seems like only the beginning.

The end of grad school does seem the end to one stage of life, and the meanwhile can be long and unforgiving. It could be that after a year or two years, you find out it's not for you. Alternatively, it could be that you've found your true calling and this is now the means to attain it. Either way, being accepted into graduate school means that you get a chance to try; it's more than what many people get.

Good luck, and be happy. This is a beginning, and in it is all the potential than you can imagine.

[1] On that note, omniscience is one of the last things I would ever ask for. I suppose that means that I wouldn't ever understand the mind of God and I don't care to. At any rate I'm still convinced that gods of any sort don't exist, so the last point is moot.

[2] Ironically, this was meant as a comment to a short post on a friend's blog. In a matter of speaking, this is the summary of my having made a short story long.

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